Tom was a regular, but he was the kind of regular nobody really wanted around. He was short, around 5 foot 6 or so, with a skinny build and an absolutely tragic haircut, parted at the side and neatly combed over the dome of his skull, with occasional stray hairs sticking out. He had beady little eyes and a moustache we all referred to as "chomo", which is short for something very unpleasant. Tom worked as a tech support guy at America Online, which had a big plant just east of where we were at. Routinely he'd come in to the store dressed in his work clothes, which was an ugly white polo shirt, khaki slacks and his dorky little employee badge hanging from his belt. This was the kind of guy who actually wore his celphone in a stupid little belt clip, like some kind of techie wannabe cowboy, fastest nerd in the west. He liked Warhammer and Battletech and every time a girl came into the store his "creepy scuzzbag" alarm went off and he arrived on the scene, ready to flirt. Frequently he's chased female customers off, to the point where we weren't sure if we should even allow him to come into the store anymore; unfortunately, Tom spent so much on games that if we kicked him out, the slow trickle of returning females wouldn't spend enough to make up what we'd lose by giving Tom the boot.

It was no surprise to me that Billy must have reported to him that there was a cute girl in the store. As he came strutting up to the counter, I was just finishing up Nicole's transaction, and I rolled my eyes.

"Hey Swami, can I get some Magic cards, man?"

"Tom, you don't play Magic." Oh christ. He's trying to pick up on this girl by buying Magic cards? Time to throw up the cockblock shield.

"I want to learn man! Are you denying me a sale?" I rolled my eyes again and pushed the booster box over near Tom. Nicole lit up a little and smiled at him.

"Oh, you wanna learn how to play?" she said.

If you've ever seen the Chuck Jones version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, then you can envision the disgusting, villainous smile that creeped its way across Tom's wormy little mouth.

"Yeah! Hey, I've never seen you in here before." Tom said, turning to rest his elbow against the counter.

"Oh, the one store near my house closed so now I have to drive over here to get cards." Nicole said.

"Thank god for that. No competition is good competition." I said. Nicole laughed.

Tom faked a laugh. "So, do you wanna teach me how to play?"

"Sure! I hardly know anyone around here, I need someone to play with!" Nicole said. No, Tom, don't. Don't, please. Nicole, you know not of what you speak.

"Oh yeah, me too." He said, his voice clearly hinting at a stomach-turning innuendo. What a shitheel.

The two tottered off back to the Gulag and I sighed heavily. I expected her come running out screaming within an hour. A few hours later they walked back through the front of the store and stood near the entrance. Tom touched Nicole on the shoulder and smiled.

"Thanks for the lesson! Hey, what are you doing tonight?" he said. He moves quick.

"Uh, I think my mom wants me to be home for dinner." she said, moving for the door. Oh good, she's caught the foul stench of Tom's true intentions.

"Oh, okay. I'm having a party, is all. Hey so, are you gonna come back and teach me some more?"

"Sure!" Nicole smiled. "See you around!"

Nicole left and Tom swaggered on up to the counter.

"And THAT" he said, pointing at me, "Is how you pick up a hot chick! Learn from the MASTER, son!"

"Hey Tom, how old is she?" Tom shrugged.


"And you're how old?"

"Twenty three."

"You realize that makes you a creepy fuck, right?" I said, turning down my newspaper. "Pft, you're just jealous because you have no skills with the ladies."

"I have a girlfriend, Tom, and she's my age and I didn't have to buy fucking Magic cards to flirt with her."

"Whatever man." Tom scuttled back to the Gulag to return to his Warhammer match.

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